What Will Become Of Social Security And Medicare?

In the final week of the 2023 midterm elections, the future of Social Security and Medicare suddenly emerged as a significant source of debate.

As the two most extensive non-emergency spending programs in the federal budget, the two programs are the foundation of retirement security for nearly all American workers; it makes perfect sense to discuss Social Security and Medicare during election season – especially considering that both programs face significant financial challenges as our population ages.

Unfortunately, the present debate on the campaign trail lacks the real substance that voters want, and it is evident that neither party has a viable strategy to protect these programs for current and future recipients.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who leads the Senate campaign arm of the Republican Party, sparked the discussion with a plan that would enable government programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, to expire if not reauthorized every five years. Then, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a far-right senator up for re-election next week, proposed mandating that the programs be annually reauthorized. It would be terrible for American workers, who must plan their retirements around these critical programs years or decades in advance if there were a fundamental shift that would allow these programs to evaporate every few years.

Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has stated categorically that this proposal “will not be part of a Republican Senate Majority agenda,” House and Senate GOP leaders have indicated they may refuse to raise the federal debt ceiling next year unless President Biden agrees to other, more modest changes in the benefit formulas of the programs. Regardless of the merits of these specific adjustments, it is incredibly reckless for Republicans to threaten the financial markets with an unprecedented default on U.S. debt if they do not get their way in a policy dispute with the administration.

It is also disingenuous to worry about federal borrowing while advocating for the permanent extension of Trump’s budget-busting tax cuts and repealing the first big deficit-reduction law approved since Obama’s presidency.

Social Security and Medicare must be modified shortly to protect the programs for present and future recipients. Social Security now spends more on benefits than it generates in allocated income each year, and if nothing is done, payouts will be reduced by up to 23 percent in 2034 when the program’s trust fund runs dry. In only five years, Medicare Part A benefits will be automatically reduced by up to 10 percent for the same reason.

Unfortunately, the leading Democratic proposal for Social Security reform in Congress would exacerbate the program’s difficulties. The Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust Act aims to increase payments while extending the program’s financial sustainability by nine years. This idea relies significantly on a series of budgetary tricks that will eventually exacerbate Social Security’s financial shortfall and make the program less equitable. Among the plan’s numerous other flaws, it would result in a substantial windfall for high-income seniors who retire within the next five years, while working people, who are already at a disadvantage under present law, would suffer the consequences through more significant inflation and higher taxes. Medicare options proposed by Democrats are similarly deficient.

In addition to being terrible policy, the Democrats’ attitude to these initiatives may also be bad politics. In this election, concerns over the Democrats’ handling of inflation and crime, as well as reproductive freedom and election integrity, appear to influence the opinions of swing voters.

Social Security and Medicare are just not at the forefront of the public’s consciousness right now, and the desperate drive to change that fact right before the election has resulted in embarrassing missteps: The White House was forced to remove a tweet yesterday that uncomfortably applauded “President Biden’s leadership” for inflation rising to the point that recipients earned the greatest automatic cost-of-living rise in a decade.

Voters in the United States demand an honest discussion about the future of Social Security and Medicare. Whichever party gains control of the House and Senate next week should work with President Biden to responsibly enhance these programs instead of attempting to eliminate them or exacerbate their present flaws. Legislators may draw upon many sound recommendations from across the political spectrum to achieve this objective. In addition, different legislative ideas, such as the bipartisan TRUST Act, would provide systems for thoughtfully evaluating such improvements. To make progress, however, would take a much more serious discussion than what voters have heard in the last weeks of this election.